Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Bed for Buddy Bear

SHB#2's favorite things right now are the colors pink and purple, flowers, butterflies, ladybugs, and taking care of her best friend, i.e. a stuffed bear almost as big as she is, named Buddy Bear. I'm not really sure how this happened, because I have most definitely not been pushing her toward (if anything, I've been pushing away from) stereotypically feminine colors or iconography or expectations for future childcare responsibilities. She does also enjoy large trucks and construction vehicles and Star Wars, but I'm trying to be a good feminist by not only not pushing her toward traditional feminism, but also not looking down on those interests if that's what she honestly enjoys. To that end, February's Kraft-tex project was for her.

When I got the February's Kraft-tex color of the month package, Orchid, SHB#2 immediately claimed it as her own: "Oh, eet's poh-poh! Eet's my favorite!" (i.e. it's purple: I love the way her toddler self pronounces things.) She's also been wanting a bed for Buddy Bear; ever since starting preschool she's been wanting to reenact her day with her bear: feeding it breakfast, doing circle time, teaching it songs, taking it to the potty, and putting it down for a nap. That last one is tricky since it's been established that the stuffed animal bed is a dog bed that's in SHB#1's room, but most of the time we need to leave the door to his room closed lest she destroy his Lego builds, so she could really use her own stuffed animal bed. I figured the size of a Kraft-tex sheet (18.5" x 28.5") was about the right size for a very shallow tray that would look more or less like the dog bed, since in SHB#2's mind, that is what stuffed animal beds look like.

With a little pillow because I had some scrap muslin and batting. 

Since I still haven't taken my machine in for servicing (hello, #onepersoncostumeshop season), I knew I wouldn't be able to do anything that involves joining two layers of Kraft-tex together without getting unsightly gaping or weird stitch tension issues, and ideally I wanted to be able to flatten the bed and potentially harvest the Kraftex after she gets over this stage of play, so I thought for a long time about how to make a tray that fit those parameters. I ended up lining the Kraft-tex with a piece of flannel (pink, with ponies and butterflies and flowers, per her choice from my stash) and then doing some experimental folding to get it vaguely tray-like. Once I figured out how I wanted to fold the corners, I creased all my fold lines with a hera marker, then used those lines as guides for stitching. I also made two channels along the long edges so that I could insert large cable ties (leftover from corset-making) to help keep it from being quite so floppy. Then it was a simple matter of using my awl to punch holes in the ends and then threading some ribbon through to tie it all together. I was originally going to insert grommets for sturdier and more photogenic ribbon holes, but TBH my customer did not care and has already claimed the bed for use, so maybe I'll go back and insert them later. But probably not.

So much pink and purple. I just folded over the edges of the flannel and zigzagged all the way around the edges. It's not the prettiest but it's functional and I think actual bias binding would have been too thick for all the folding. 

Here's a diagram showing how I did my folds and stitches and holes. The corner squares are 4" x 4", and all the lines inside the rectangle represent stitch lines where I sewed the flannel and Kraftex layers together. In addition to stitching, the dashed lines represent valley folds and the dotted lines represent mountain folds; the dash-dot lines that were NOT folded are my additional lines of stitching for the cable tie channels. Lastly, the circles mark where I put my ribbon holes. I punched these with my awl through all three layers at once when the entire thing was folded up (with WonderClips to hold the edges in place) so that I could be sure they would line up with each other properly. The final tray is just the right size for Buddy Bear, but still leaves a large flat portion of Kraft-tex in the middle that can be reclaimed and reused when SHB#2 no longer needs it as a bed. The ribbons also make it so the bed can be "taken apart" and flattened should it need to be stored away.
I feel like the SAT Math test, having to post a disclaimer that this diagram is not to scale. 

Perfect size for Buddy Bear (who, in case you want to know, is from Target's Cat and Jack kids' bedroom line).

All tucked in!

Of course, most people don't need very shallow tray beds to fit this very specific bear, but you could use this same principle to make a different sized tray depending on your needs, and maybe you'll actually take the time to put in nice grommets!

[Note: C&T Publishing provided the Kraft-tex for this project.]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Brandy Cinderella Dress for a Small Human Being

Cinderella was my first favorite princess. My dad likes to remind me that when I was in preschool, he read the Disney Cinderella book to me every night at my request until he had memorized it. Cinderella was the reason why my parents started calling me Cindy (because my name is not actually Cation), and I watched the movie so many times that I have to think it must have had some effect on my eventually learning to sew, because I'm pretty sure it has the longest sewing sequence in a kids' movie. My parents were too frugal to ever buy dedicated costumes or dress-up clothes, but no doubt I would've worn a fancy Cinderella dress to rags (in a bizarre reversal of the movie's progression) had I owned one. I don't love Cinderella now (I much prefer my princesses to have more agency and badassery, like Mulan), but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her. So when SHB#2's best friend, K, who loves Cinderella and dressing up, turned three last month, I knew I wanted to help make her princess dreams come true.

Here's the catch: K loves the 1997 Brandy version of Cinderella, and not the classic animated Disney one. There are tons of tutorials and patterns out there on teh interwebs for the classic Disney dress, but not much for Brandy's ball gown. Thankfully, at last year's D23 Heroes and Villains costume exhibit, the Brandy gown was on display so there were plenty of good reference pictures available even though the film came out awhile ago. I picked up a couple of different light blue sparkly fabrics from Joann's remnants selection (I make exceptions to my no new fabric buying rule for gifts, but even then I try to shop the remnants for small pieces that other people may not want) and started plotting about how to make this dress happen for a very small human being.

I love that  on the left you can see an Asian guy dressed as Paolo Montalban's prince taking a picture of the dress on display...I mean, how often does one get a canonically Asian, non-animatedprince?  

Having taken the evening gown construction class, I now know that a waist stay and boned bodice are essential for having a strapless dress stay up, but obvious I wasn't going to be putting such structure into a child's dress. Also, the fabric I found for the bodice was stretchy, because I wanted this to be a comfy, easy(ish) to put on fun costume. I decided that clear swimsuit elastic was the way to go, in the form of straps to hold up the top while the little droopy sleeve swags just hung decoratively. I knew that K and SHB#2 were more or less the same size, so I used one of her tops to draw up a vaguely raglan-sleeve-type pattern, where the sleeve had enough room to fall off the shoulder to look like Brandy's dress. I sewed some pintucks on the front and back to visually mimic the Vs made by the rhinestones on Brandy's dress, and added some pearls and silver beads from my stash to give the suggestion of a jeweled dress without covering the entire thing. Since the velvet is sparkly, I think the overall effect is sufficiently fancy. After semi-blinging out the top, I cut and attached a circular ruffle that was longer in the back to match the peplum on Brandy's dress.

Sorry, these are really not the best pictures because 1) glittery/sparkly throws off my phone camera, 2) our house does not get great light, and 3) SHB#2 was grabbing me while I was trying to quickly snap some pictures before wrapping it up to leave for the birthday party.

Tiny silver and pearl beads at the bodice neckline! Also, the tiara was one I bought for a costume party in high school, wore once, and forgot about until my mom was cleaning and found it and gave it back to me. I figured it should go to a little girl who could actually appreciate it. 

Brandy's skirt has layers and layers of fluffy tulle, but I couldn't find a good color match at Joann's. I did find half a yard of this nylon net with embroidered glittery flowers, though, which I deemed to be good enough. I layered it over some white dotted net (leftover from this top) and periwinkle blue knit fabric (leftover from making Mulan costumes) to get the blue-ish layered look, which worked pretty well, I think! The three layers were gathered into a white 2"-wide soft elastic waistband, then I hemmed the knit, innermost layer with some horsehair braid to help it stand out and away from tiny feet. The dotted net layer I left unhemmed, and the outermost embroidered flower layer has a whopping five inch hem. Since I didn't want a line of stitching going around the skirt, I just hand-tacked the flowers together where they overlapped. The nylon net is sheer enough (and there enough going on in the underlayers) that the overall effect is a mostly invisible hem, with the added bonus of the wide hem helping the overskirt to poof out more. With such a generous hem and the elastic waistband, there's plenty of room for growth (at least in the skirt, if not the top) for years to come.

Sparkles and glitter abound!

You can see the three layers of fabric here. 
Here's a close-up of how I folded over the outer layer. The flowers lined up very nicely, and the stiffness of the embroidered flowers at the bottom also help to keep it from collapsing in on itself. 

I think the finished outfit was received pretty well, considering K put it on right away and has been wearing it regularly ever since. I know the Selfish Seamstress (oh how I miss her presence in the sewing blogiverse!) says that sewing for kids is not to be done, but alas, motherhood has changed me and I am less selfish about sewing for others now. That said, I'm still only going to sew fun things, like costumes!

Blurry again, because have you ever tried to get a photo of a three year old in the evening, indoors?

The only problem is that throughout this process, I kept trying it all on SHB#2, such that by the end she thought it was for her. She was a little disappointed that it went to her bestie, so I think this means I need to make a floofy princess dress for her now...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back to My Roots

This past Christmas, I celebrated (okay, posted on IG stories) my sewing machine's tenth birthday. Mr. Cation got me the machine for Christmas in 2019, and the first thing I did was sew a whole slew of zippered pouches. I started out with unlined pouches, then added appliqued cats, then graduated to lined pouches and then even pouches with little "windows" that gave a hint as to the contents. It was good practice for sewing in straight lines, being precise, and thinking about how one would need to arrange right and wrong sides of outer and inner fabrics in order to get the correct sides showing and raw edges hidden, and the mass output was fine because you can always use more containers for things and they made for nice little hostess- or stocking-stuffer-type gifts. Then I discovered garment sewing and, with the exception of some forays into plushie- and quilt-making, I pretty much stopped sewing non-wearable things.

Now that I have small human beings, though, I need more zippered pouches to contain all the miscellaneous things that they "require." Requirement being a loosely applied term, though, because the other day SHB#2 "required" that I bring for her 1) a reusable ice cube, 2) two unopened packets of hot sauce, 3) a small pair of tongs, 4) a slap bracelet, and 5) an old hotel key card. Kids and their treasures of the day: you never know what piece of junk will be indispensable! At any rate, it's much easier to contain all these little things in a zippered pouch instead of in three tiny pockets or two tinier hands or one enormous diaper bag that also contains changes of clothes and washcloths and restaurant toys and water bottles and sunscreen and hats. So, more zippered pouches it was!

Coincidentally, at around the same time that I realized I was going to need more zippered pouches, C&T Publishing contacted me about trying out Kraft-Tex, a leather-like fabric that is made from mostly paper and a small amount of synthetic latex. I was intrigued, because I don't love using leather (when I do, I try to source it from thrifted items) OR pleather/vinyl (which is terrible for the environment), but there are some costume items that kind of require leather or leather-looking materials. I agreed to try out Kraft-Tex, thinking that if it worked out, I would be able to use it for the "leather" sections of the Pozu-knockoff Rey boots I'm theoretically trying to make. C&T Publishing has a color-of-the-month program for bloggers, where they send you a different color 18.5" x 28.5" sheet each month in exchange for a blog post about a project made with it. January's color is Crimson, which worked out because you know, Chinese New Year! Much red! So lucky! Very fortune! Wow!

Tiny toddler hand sneaking in to grab a pouch because this girl loves bags. She is forever running off with my make-up bag, my pattern weights bag, my pencil case, etc. 

I was able to get three zippered pouches out of my piece of red Kraft-Tex, and I learned a lot in the process. I've had some experience sewing with trickier materials, but this still felt like a pretty steep learning curve, mostly because, like leather, once the needle goes through the Kraft-Tex, the hole is permanent. The Kraft-Tex is very stiff, so while it is bendable, it's not easy, so manipulating around curves on a non-flat object was tricky. It's also quite thick, so my (admittedly cheap) machine didn't have enough power to get through multiple layers and I had to resort to using the hand wheel. Also, I still haven't been able to get the thread tension right (although that might also be because of my machine, not the material, since my machine is oh, two years overdue for a tune-up), so there's a pretty visible gap between the pieces when there's tension on the seam. All that said, I do really, really like the look and sturdiness of Kraft-Tex, and the fact that I don't need to interface it, so I want to try again after my machine's been serviced and see if I can't figure out a better way to sew with it. Anyway, here are the details!

It's hard to photograph this bright red material with an iPhone,
but hopefully you can see that it does have a nice leathery-looking texture.

Wonky hand-stitches on the bias binding, because by
that time I couldn't be bothered with keeping things
neat while sewing with pliers. 
The first pouch was Aneela Hoey's Zip-Up Tray Pouch, which I first heard about from SewBrooke. It's a tray that zips up into a nice little carrying case. I originally planned to give this to my son for putting Legos into so that he could bring them to different places to build, but since it doesn't close up all the way, tiny pieces can still fall out. I'm using it for my sewing stuff instead, since I really do like how it zips up somewhat compactly, but still allows for opening up to see all the contents without having to rummage to the bottom. In retrospect, this was a poor choice of first project for a new material, since there's a lot of tricky maneuvering to get around the corners, and the bulkiness and stiffness of the Kraft-Tex made for hideous stitching on my bias binding. It's kind of embarrassing to look at, but it's functional? I think I forgot that, just like with garment sewing, it's important to match the material to the pattern and not assume that you can force any material to work for a particular project. 

Fat and happy taco cats! And burger cats. 

I then made the Noodlehead Open Wide Zippered Pouch two times, thinking that less weird maneuvering would be better suited to the Kraft-Tex. Since my machine didn't like sewing through multiple layers of the material, I used a different coordinating fabric for the part that would actually be sewn to the zipper. My sister was planning to donate this sweatshirt with cute junk food cats all over it; the print is cute but the fabric is 100% polyester and feels pretty awful. I figured it would work for a non-garment application, so I fused a some light interfacing to the back to increase stability since it's a knit. I thought everything would be pretty easy since I wasn't manipulating strange shapes under the presser foot, but I realized when I flipped the pouch right-side out that my thread tension was all off, so the bottom looks pretty bad. It's still functional, but I wouldn't want to say, gift it to anyone. I made one more pouch with the same combination of fabrics but without the boxed corners on the bottom, thinking that that would reduce the obviousness of the thread tension issues, but it was only partially successful. The gaping is less noticeable, but still present, so I wouldn't quite call this a win. 

Top pouch, lined with a fruit-print quilting cotton from the stash, has been claimed by SHB#2 for holding her random treasures: a garbage truck, two magnetic pigs, pink and purple Duplo blocks, some Trader Joe's stickers, and her "phone," which is actually a random remote. The flat pouch, which I keep in my backpack, has extra utensils for if we go places that only give out disposable ones. The fold-out tray has all my essential sewing stuff for bringing to class: paper scissors, fabric scissors, pencil & eraser, fabric marker, tracing wheel, chalk, seam ripper, awl, tape (for flat pattern manipulation), hera marker, French curve, and extra bobbins. I should have a box of pins in there too, but I took it out to use. 

In the end, I do have three serviceable pouches that have already been corralled into holding things, and I love the look of the red with the cats (which vaguely remind me of the similar-colored Chinese lucky cats). It's very appropriate for a Chinese New Year set of projects, although cats are probably inappropriate for it being the Year of the Rat and all... Also, I'm feeling more motivated to actually take my machine in for its tune-up, which always seemed a little silly to me, seeing as how that costs as much as the machine itself originally did, but then I remember that I'm all for making things last as long as possible. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Very Star Wars Halloween

Raising Small Human Beings is oftentimes an exercise in simultaneous frustration and amusement, and the selection of Halloween costumes is a prime example. When SHB#1 was three, he was obsessed with zebras, so he wanted to be a zebra for Halloween. That was fairly easy to make, and the fleece zebra suit I made for him got plenty of wear afterwards for pretend play. The next year, he was into construction vehicles and dinosaurs, so he alternated between wanting to be a pteranodon, a stegosaurus, or a "construction stegosaurus." I managed to convince him that a stegosaurus would have a hard time fitting a construction vest over the plates on its back, and together we settled on his being a "construction zebra" since the zebra suit still fit. I had to laugh when I saw his class picture: so many store-bought superheroes and princesses, and a lone zebra wearing a neon vest.

Here's a picture of the zebra costume, with a red cape so that he could be Superhero Zebra (4yos are nothing if not literal) for his third comic con. His stuffed zebra is also wearing a tiny red cape so that they can match! I was dressed as Dark!Rey. 

This past year, he was into the Octonauts for a good deal of it, so he went back and forth between wanting to be Tunip or Kwazii. I was despairing about finding teal or orange pants at the thrift store when he suddenly, in the last month before Halloween, got super into Star Wars, and decided he actually wanted to be Darth Vader. SHB#2 wants to do everything big brother does, so she immediately declared that she, too, would be Darth Vader (despite my best efforts to convince her that she would make an adorable Ewok). SHB#1 then decreed that we should be a Star Wars family, so I had to be Rey and Mr. Cation had to be Luke Skywalker. I can't lie; since Star Wars was one of my first fandoms I was super proud of the kids' geeky decision and secretly thrilled to have an excuse to make all these cool costumes!

Both kids already had black pants, and finding black turtlenecks at the thrift store was easy, so then it was just a matter of figuring out how to make Darth Vader's iconic chest plate, belt and cape. I thought about trying to applique all the pieces onto the turtlenecks, but that sounded like waaaaay too much work, plus I wanted them to be able wear the tops for regular, non-costume things. In the end, I decided to cut all the little buttons and "lights" out of tape and put them on black felt that I had leftover from a school costuming project. Gray duct tape worked for most of the details, and for the red and green bits I just used Sharpie to color over masking tape. After I showed the completed chest box to SHB#2, though, she immediately tried to take off all the "stickers," and I realized I would need to find a way to make them more durable to survive kid handling. I bought some iron-on vinyl and put that over the chest box and belt pieces and it worked perfectly; the tape seemed to really meld into the felt and it was easy to stitch it onto some scraps of black fabric and ribbon in order to allow it to all be tied on. The capes were just half circles cut from stash black jersey knit and sewn on with some elastic to gather the top and allow for easy slipping on over the kids' large heads.

Finished costume, a little worse for wear after being stuffed into a backpack, but still holding up fine! 

On Halloween, with their matching lightsabers. SHB#2 absolutely refused to wear a DV mask. 

Since SHB#1 hadn't specified which version of Luke he wanted Mr. Cation to be, I went with the easiest to put together, the ANH Tatooine Luke. I borrowed a gi top from a friend, and then it was just a matter of wearing his own khaki-colored linen pants and a dark brown leather belt with the buckle turned to the back. I also wrapped some strips of brown linen around his calves to mimic Luke's puttees.

Rey was the last costume to come together, even though I've been working on her the longest. I was originally planning on making her Resistance outfit to Rebel Legion standards, but stalled when I realized how difficult it was going to be to thrift the right fabrics. I'm committed to making my costuming greener where I can, and if that means not being screen accurate, then so be it. Costumes already get so few wears, I'd rather not add to their environmental burden by buying new fabrics for each one. Anyway, a year ago I thrifted some long brown pants; I cut off the bottoms and used those to make the kneepads. The shirt is made from a tea-dyed large white polo shirt, and the belt and wrist cuff were purchased from a seller in the Rey FB group. I found a very 80s grey wool herringbone coat at the thrift store for $10 that I initially thought might work for Rebel Legion approval, but upon closer examination, I realized that it was actually black and white herringbone, which together looked gray from far away. At this point I was too disappointed to continue work on Rey, so I stuffed everything into a garbage bag for a year.

From (a galaxy) far far away, it reads as gray, but up close it's pretty obviously black and white ;__;

A year in a naughty bag gave me time to get over the sting of disappointment, and when I pulled the coat back out, I felt okay about making the vest to complete our family costume. Thankfully, I still had the pattern pieces that I'd drafted and the mockup vest, so after what felt like miles of seam ripping to take apart the coat, I managed to get the pattern pieces to mostly fit.

From my Instastory. See the welt pocket I had to work around on those top pieces?

I ended up using a bunch of the scraps to practice the closed blanket stitch that's used on the edges of Rey's vest.
Why I chose to put in the time for that tedious that detail for a non-RL-approvable vest is beyond me. 

I did have to fudge a little by sewing some buttonholes closed, but it worked out in the end. I lined the inside of the vest with gray cotton flannel, which, with the interfacing that was already fused to the wool, made the vest stiff and heavy enough. I did reinforce the center front edges of the collar with some ironed and stretched horsehair braid, a technique I learned from my evening gown class with Lynda Maynard. After that, it was just a matter of adding the hand-sewn closed blanket stitch to all the edges. That took forever, and I only finished it just before we had to leave for trick or treating!

See that buttonhole I had to sew up right next to the side seam? Also I probably should've done something about the bulk at the shoulder from all the layers of wool+flannel+batting+turned seam allowances, but at that point I no longer cared. 

Look at all that time I spent carefully doing all that ladder-stitching by hand!
Gray flannel lining and wool held together by closed blanket stitches, and also all the whipstitched edges on the shirt.
So. Much. Hand. Sewing.

And here we all are! 

During trick or treating, it was so fun to hear people react to SHB#1's costume -- "Aww, a tiny Darth Vader!" -- and then to hear the even more excited reaction when they saw SHB#2 come up to the doorway right afterward -- "OMG AN EVEN TINIER DARTH VADER!!!" -- because obviously the smaller something is, the cuter, right? Only a couple people realized I was Rey, and not just somebody with somewhat odd clothing choices, but Halloween is really about the kid costumes. I would like to finish making my knock-off Po-Zu Rey boots at some point in the future, but in the meantime I'm just glad I finished this vest so that I could remove at least one UFO from my costume list and make my son happy at the same time.

Then again, maybe his happy face is due to the fact that he just ate a piece of his trick or treating loot.